Love is blooming at the Levels Road Dog Park, and humans have a pretty good time, too
Sep 07, 2017 12:13PM
● By Steven Hoffman
Drewe Phinny Staff Writer
With all the juicy romances reported by TMZ and E! these days, there’s one in Middletown you might not know about. Nyla and Milton meet almost daily at the dog park, and they are really carrying on like a couple of crazy kids -- or dogs. Actually, it’s all G-rated and their owners couldn’t be happier.
Nyla is a mix of Labrador Retriever and some American Bulldog, Rottweiler and German Shepherd, according to her owner, David Bennett. Milton is a Bijon Frise and he belongs to Robert Stewart. Stewart and Bennett are Middletown neighbors who treat their respective pooches to daily visits to what is commonly referred to as the Levels Road Dog Park. The dogs have developed a strong friendship; in fact, Stewart described Nyla and Milton as “boyfriend and girlfriend.” Joking about the origin of the Bijon Frise, Bennett said, “Nyla likes the French accent.”
As Stewart watched Nyla react smartly to her owner’s commands, he jokingly said, “Milton can do tricks, too! Milton, sit on the bench!” His dog was already sitting on the bench. It’s that kind of easy humor and casual conversation among pet owners that makes the dog park as much fun for the humans as the animals.
Eventually, the topic turns to a dog’s intuition about strangers. Stewart said, “If my dog doesn’t like you, I’m going to be at least a little suspicious.”
Bennett had a similar take: “I was here one day, talking, and Nyla wants to say hello to everybody who walks by. This one guys walks down the side and she kind of backs up and the hair on the back of her neck kind of stands up and she just growls at him. Then the next person walks up and she’s very friendly.” So is this a reliable way to determine somebody’s character? Probably not, but it has become a part of the canine pop culture.
Another dog park visitor with a personal story is Elizabeth “Betty” McLennan, whose pet actually keeps the spot warm when she gets out of bed. “When I get up to take care of my husband, Timmy [her dog] moves up from the foot of the bed to my pillow and keeps everything in place, round and warm. When I come back, I don’t have to say a word. I sit down on the side of the bed and he moves over and I have a nice warm head place to go.”
McLennan agrees with her neighbors that the park is special. “I think it’s very, very nice,” she said.
Levels Road Dog Park is divided into two huge sections of three acres (for smaller dogs) and five acres (for larger dogs), and the visitor count is pretty random from day to day. Bennett said, “You can get here and there’ll be 20 dogs on the big dog side, and 15 minutes later, there’s nobody over there. Then you might have two dogs over there in the next hour, and then all of a sudden there will be 30.”
All the owners gave the dog park glowing reviews, with many citing the all-grass surface, as opposed to the bark-mulch substance that other places use. Despite the limited amount of shade, everybody agreed there's always a pleasant breeze to keep things cool. They like the benches and especially the doggie water fountain, which perfectly accommodates the height of their four-legged friends.
What had been a fairly quiet day at the dog park got a little more interesting when Riley the bulldog came on the scene. At that point, Milton started to bark his warning to the new guest. “Milton is kind of like the policeman around here,” Bennett explained.
Once Milton checked out Riley and gave her his approval, everything was back to normal. Riley’s owner, Carol Lienig, chatted with Stewart about the care and feeding of dogs, including a diet she feels leads to a nicer coat. She also mentioned that she lives close to the Glasgow dog park, but she will most likely choose to travel the extra miles to Middletown because it has so much open land. The combined eight acres make it possible for large groups of pet lovers to simultaneously gather. Many, like Stewart and Bennett, form friendships that start because of the common bonds of dog ownership.
Lienig mentioned that this was her first time visiting the Middletown dog park, and she loved it. “I like the grass rather than the mulch, which gets all over the place. Here it’s like having a giant lawn or back yard for your dog. Riley has so much energy, and since we live in a townhouse, we don’t really have a back yard, and this is the only thing that lets her get out. She knows when we’re coming here and she gets excited.”
Lienig is also a big fan of the doggie water fountain. “We’ve been to a lot of these dog parks and this is the best, by far,” she said.
Lienig, who grew up in Newark, is interested in many aspects of the canine-human dynamic and one of those areas concerns the intense training that some dogs undergo. “Our neighbor was a canine officer and he trains the dogs on command,.” she said. “The second he put his vest on, it was like everything else shut off. A huge play dog would be goofy as a Golden Retriever, but when the vest came on, he was down to business. The discipline is very important. It has to be constant.”
This story wouldn’t be complete without mentioning The Four Yorkies. Four Yorkshire Terriers (Jack, Bear, Gracie and Tiny) entered the dog park and swept through the place like a barking tornado. It was as if someone choreographed their movements, and they scampered to and fro in one cloud-like formation. They taunted the Great Dane on the other side of the fence (in the big dog area) with playful exuberance. It was great entertainment. And to make it even better, The Four Yorkies are a family – mom, dad and two kids.
The Great Dane that caught the Yorkies’ attention goes by the name of Nova. Owners Ruth Ann and Lennie of Middletown mentioned this was their first visit. Amidst all the noise from the Yorkies, Nova remained pretty calm. “Actually, Nova is really mellow,” Ruth Ann said.
Because that area was being mowed, Nova had the “big dog” side all to himself.
Rick and Lynn are two of many dog owners who come from Newark to the Levels Road Dog Park.
“We just hop right on Route 1,” Rick said. “We do other parks up that way, but none of them are as clean as this one.”
And speaking of clean, Lynn is not a big fan of the bark-mulch mix. “Up north, they are all mulch, and they are filthy,” she said.
Rick, referring to their all-white rescue mix, Kramer, said, “He goes in white and comes out black. We’ve checked out a lot of the places and this is the best one.”
Lynn also loves the size of the park. “It’s pretty busy on the weekends, but it’s so big that all the dogs have lots of room to roam,” she said.
The big dog section forms a huge rectangle and then wraps around in an L-shaped configuration. “We come down on Saturdays and there are at least 15 to 20 dogs here,” Jack said. “And it’s free. Then there’s the picnic pavilion and the playground for the kids.”
Any level of dog fighting is kept to an absolute minimum due to self-policing by the dog owners themselves, as Rick and Lynn explained. “If your dog causes problems, you just don’t bring him. You get ostracized real quickly. And you also learn the rules. You don’t bring food. You don’t bring little tiny kids, because the dogs might run over them.”
On any given weekend, you could see several local groups meeting with their canine friends. “One day we saw 50 beagles,” Lynn said. “And the owners teach classes and have other activities.”
Town spokeswoman Kristen Krenzer said the eight-year-old recreation area is a “passive park,” designed specifically for the rest and relaxation of its visitors. It’s a place where people can get away from it all and just unwind.
Amidst all the hustle and bustle of life and it’s challenges, dog lovers in and around Middletown continue to find calm at the Levels Road Dog Park. The only question might be, who has the most fun, the dogs or the owners? At this point, it looks like a tie.